The WTO is at the centre of current trade policy disputes. In recent years, an escalation of trade protection measures and countermeasures has impacted negatively on global economic development. The need for reforms to safeguard the WTO is therefore widely acknowledged among WTO members. Current efforts to reform the WTO can be summarised in three areas:
1) Further development of existing WTO agreements: The focus is on negotiations on fisheries subsidies and the talks on internal subsidies in the agricultural sector. In general, a productive outcome from the multilateral negotiations will depend on disputed special provisions for developing countries better reflecting the economic progress of individual developing countries.
2) Reform of the dispute settlement mechanism: Discussions must be held to restore a fully functioning dispute resolution system by 2024.
3) Improving the application of existing agreements: Measures have been proposed
to improve the transparency of individual members' trade policies. The focus
here is on more consistent application of the existing notification requirements.
Plurilateral negotiations at the WTO
In addition to the multilateral work on WTO reform, negotiations are also held in
various configurations with a subset of WTO members. The intention of such
plurilateral initiatives is to return them to the WTO plenary at a later stage,
for the benefit of the multilateral trading system.
Since May 2019, around 80 WTO members have been negotiating provisions on certain aspects
of e-commerce. The aim of these negotiations is twofold: to promote digital
trade by avoiding unnecessary barriers to trade while also developing common
basic principles for domestic regulation.
Other plurilateral initiatives exist on domestic regulation of services, investment
facilitation, measures to promote trade participation by micro, small and
medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and trade and gender.
Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS)
Switzerland participates in the Agreement on Climate Change, Trade and Sustainability (ACCTS) initiative together with Costa Rica, Fiji, Iceland, New Zealand and Norway. This initiative seeks to facilitate market access for environmental products and thus contribute to the achievement of global and national environmental objectives. The ACCTS also aims to demonstrate how trade and environmental policy can support and complement each other and thus make a systemic contribution to the debate on trade and the environment. All WTO member states will have the option of joining the agreement. It is intended that the ACCTS will eventually become part of the WTO and thus become multilateral.
The following areas are covered by the ACCTS: Liberalisation of environmental goods and services, reform of fossil fuel subsidies, and guidelines for eco-labelling programmes.